And the Winner Is: Diaper Pong!

Now that was a baby shower! What a great turnout. And we all had a wonderful time. (Alas, I had to slip out to teach a class for a couple hours, but I got my share of celebrating in.) Everyone was so kind and thoughtful. Bethany’s network of support really came through to bless her with practical items needed by a first-time mom. It was the power of love and community in action, and I was touched. It was also great to see so many old friends and out-of-town family members.

My favorite game was Diaper Pong. Bounce a ping pong ball into an open diaper hanging on a board and win a prize. I tried to persuade my daughter that first prize should be a bowl of chocolate pudding with a glass of lemonade, but she vetoed the idea. (Yes, 7th grade humor is my specialty.) The Make-a-Onesie station was also a hit. My favorite design was the one that said, “I’m always getting picked up by the ladies.” Ha! I’ll remind him of that when he’s 16 or 17. It was a self-catered event, and everyone pulled together to pull it off. We couldn’t have asked for a better team or a lovelier day. 

So, now it’s getting real. Samuel is on his way, and we’re doing our best to get ready for him. What Peter said of Jesus could be said of SamJam, too: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you…are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). Amen.

Along with the joy is a prayer request. Bethany’s placenta needs to move about 1.8 cm in the next seven weeks to be able to deliver naturally. Otherwise, it will be a C-section. She’s not opposed to that since her platelets are low, which would prevent her from getting an epidural. That does not sound appealing to her at all! So, the general prayer is for the safety of both mother and child, and the wisdom to make good decisions when the time comes. Thanks for remembering her to the Lord.

Oddly enough, my son and I got into a fun conversation today about the Styx song “Come Sail Away.” Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but that was kind of random. We talked about surface meanings and hidden meanings, and the universal quest to journey toward love. Since “sailing away” fits with the nautical theme of the shower, I’ll include it below.

Have a great rest of the weekend! 

Thanks for coming!
Coffee, tea, water, and blue punch coming up.
Homemade desserts by Mimi (Samuel’s paternal grandmother).
Setting sail with homemade cupcakes.
A place for guest pictures.
Instructions for the Onesie station.
Mom and dad’s gift opening station.
The “Guess Which Family Member” contest. (My “Gotcha Day” picture is in there. Can you tell which one?)
Just waiting for the meatballs and the chicken salad.
I think we’re ready to go.
Guests begin to gather.
A fellow adoptee…and a little cutie!
Everyone was supposed to bring a used book. We gave Bethany her very first Bible (which we’ve kept over the years) to give to her son. The Word of God will be here long after we’re gone.
Our gift to Samuel.
Mom and dad reacting to a cool pair of mini cowboy boots.

Ship Ahoy!

Some family life updates, etc….

1. We have beautiful chaos chez Valentino this weekend. SamJam’s baby shower is this Saturday, so there’s been a flurry of activity lately getting everything ready and set up. Fortunately, we’ve had a couple of productive days, and all we need to do yet is put the food out and finish up a few displays and activity centers. We’re holding the event in the seminary fellowship hall, which is the perfect size for a group of 70-80 people. The nautical theme my daughter chose is adorable. I wonder if it portends another swimmer in the family. Below are a few snaps of the room in its current state. Hopefully, more will be coming when it’s all complete.

2. We also have several relatives from out of town staying with us right now. It almost feels like Christmas. My sister-in-law is trying to learn French for an upcoming trip to Paris, so it’s fun to have a conversation partner. She’s doing well so far, and her vocabulary is increasing. French is harder to hear and comprehend than it is to read and understand because of all the silent letters it contains. Nevertheless, le français est la langue de l’amour, n’est-ce pas? Je pense que c’est très romantique. I’m very much looking forward to going back to Paris someday. England, too. The sights, sounds, tastes, and smells are magical. The theatres and museums are also amazing. Did I just write “theatre” instead of “theater”? 🙂

3. My students are killing it this semester. It’s a dream come true to teach at a theological seminary, and it’s way beyond a dream to be able to teach at the doctoral level, too. This crop of students is motivated, humble, curious, and wise. I love spending time with them. All told, I’ll be teaching, co-teaching, or assisting in 15 different courses this academic year. That’s kind of ridiculous, but I’m having a blast. Blessedly, there’s not a lot of academic snoot in our neck of the woods. The folks in my cohorts are eager to learn, not showcase what they already know for the sake of self-aggrandizement. As Paul said, “Knowledge puff us. Love builds up.”

4. I structured one of our sub-master courses around the simple question, “Who is God? Who’s asking? And why does it matter?” That’s enough to keep us busy for an entire semester! In another course, we’re drilling down on what it means to be made imago dei, in the image of God. What an eye opener! I can’t wait to post some of my research on that, but, alas, the dissertation comes first. We’re also doing a lot of self-awareness work, personality inventories, and family-of-origin analyses, including genograms. There’s been a lot of vulnerability among the students, and a whole lot of laughs, too. They inspire me to keep learning and growing myself. It’s been a while since I’ve taken the MBTI, so I’m eager to see if any of my PCIs have shifted in recent years. 

5. On Sunday, we’ll be holding a service of remembrance for one of the two church buildings we’re in the process of selling. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate what God has done in those special places before stepping into the future in a new place. (The congregational unity in this venture has been amazing.) My mind often goes back to similar places and spaces where God made himself known to me or blessed me abundantly through other people—whether through words, hugs, prayers, encouragement, conversation, or music. I have so many of those moments to look back on with delight–especially the hugs! As Michael W. Smith used to sing, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them.” Exactly right. So, what we’re really celebrating this Sunday is God and his people—as they intersected our lives at specific times and in specific locations along the journey. We’ll do a similar service of remembrance for the other church next month.

6. Finally, I’m coming to the end of my Madam Secretary binge. For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed it. Next up is a collection of short-series period dramas, like Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, Emma, Jane Eyre—all those good BBC productions. (Can you tell I’m ready to go back to England?) Actually, I want to re-watch these highly regarded flicks because my brain can’t hold anything new for a while. It’s already on overdrive from the academic load and the dissertation. Besides, my PCIs may change, but my tastes do not. ❤️📚 💙 📺 💛💻💚

Have a great weekend, everyone, and enjoy the blessings of God this beautiful time of year.

Welcome aboard!
Favor table.
Table setting with activity pack.
Dessert table with forthcoming theme-based cupcakes.
Another activity table. (One not shown here is a table for the game of ‘Diaper Pong.’ Hmmm.)
Stamp a building block for Samuel to play with.
Make a onesie for SamJam.
Banner above the special chairs for the new mommy and daddy.
Guess which member of the Valentino or White family each baby picture represents. And guess who authored the children’s book. 🙂
Cards of encouragement for the new parents.
Bethany showing off her baby shower nails at our daddy-daughter lunch date today.

‘Old Blue Eyes’ singing a tune from Ship Ahoy!

Turning the Tables, Part 4: Breaking Bread at Bethsaida (Luke 9:10-17)

If you’ve ever given a significant amount of your time and energy to serve the Lord and help his church accomplish its mission, then maybe you’ve wondered on occasion if it’s all worth it. Maybe you’re simply exhausted from all the (sometimes thankless) hours you put in as a volunteer. Maybe your theme song in life goes something like this:

Mary had a little lamb,
It would have been a sheep;
But it joined an evangelical church, 
And died from lack of sleep.

Or as one church bulletin blooper put it: “Don’t let stress kill you. Let the church help.”

So many ministry events, so little time. So many service opportunities, so little energy. One can hardly blame the disciples for seeing five thousand men (perhaps twenty thousand people in all) needing food and care, and saying, “Send them away!” 

We find ourselves saying the same thing sometimes. The sheer volume of needs around us can make us want to give up. The tank is empty. The well is dry. We get drained. We get burned out, and there’s nothing left to go on with. Joy erodes, and the marks of our personhood are rubbed raw.

Remarkably, Jesus doesn’t send the crowds away. People are not a burden to him (even the needy ones), so he doesn’t dismiss them. He wants them to draw near to him, and he treats them with compassion. Nor does Jesus let his disciples send them away. Rather, he says, “You give them something to eat.” This is where Jesus’ followers come in. 

We learn here that our first response to the needs of others is not to measure our resources, but to consider God’s resources. When Jesus tells us to do something hard, we “act as if we can even if we feel like we can’t.” That’s when the miracle of multiplication takes place, and he swallows up our need with his infinite supply. To put it simply, Kingdom hospitality is letting Jesus be gracious through you. 

So, what’s your hospitality quotient? Who’s at your table? Who does God want at your table? Who does he want you to feed?

Munchkin Update

O.k., my kids aren’t exactly munchkins anymore, but they’re still my kids. And one of them is carrying a munchkin, so there’s that. 🙂

Andrew continues working on a variety of projects in his new media business, AVM. He’s doing audiobooks, voiceovers, real estate photography, special occasion videography, editing, etc. He lives about an hour away right now, so we get to see him weekly, which is wonderful. He has even been worshiping with us each week and will be providing some church tech support in the near future. I got to see him last night when we met at the Hamburg Area High School for the Hawks’ game against Conrad Weiser, where I got to see my niece and nephew in action (cheering and coaching).

One of our favorite things to do is watch movies and discuss them. We just finished binging season 2 of The Chosen. My favorite line of the series so far is where the keeper of a certain house says one of the rooms is haunted by his dead grandmother, and Jesus replies, “Oooo, I’ll take that one.” Drew is excited to be acting in the local community theater production of Grease with a good (and super talented) friend from high school.

Bethany became my part-time personal assistant this week, as well as a caretaker for her grandmother. She knocked it out of the park on both counts, and her administrative assistance will help me stay focused on writing my dissertation. (I had a wonderful meeting yesterday with my dissertation committee and was greenlighted for the next stage.) Her background in medical administration has given her some skills for charting the dynamics of my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s. That can only help in an already challenging situation.

Her new dress for the baby shower came yesterday, so she tried it on and then asked me to take a few pictures. The shower is next Saturday, and about 70 people are planning to attend. Many are coming in from out of state, so it will be a busy weekend. I’m thrilled that she and her husband live less than 15 minutes from our house.

Samuel had the hiccups for the first time this week, but I already told you that. 🙂 I struggled a bit with the news that I was becoming a grandpa because, as I like to say, “I’m too young to be this old,” and “I thought it would take longer to get this old.” But a slight graying of the temples has begun, so maybe it’s time. When I was a competitive swimmer, my hair was three or four shades lighter because of the chlorine. It also gets a bit lighter in the summer these days, too. Maybe the graying effect will help me lighten up—on the age thing, too. 🙂 Well, at least I still have hair! 🙂

O.k., four smiley faces are enough for one post, and I need to switch gears anyway. So, have a great weekend, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. Blessings to all.

In addition to which…

Bethany and I just finished decorating the fireplace shelves in our living room. Thank you, Hobby Lobby!

Holy Hiccups

I was on my way home from teaching a theology class last night when I got a text from my daughter telling me that her in utero child (7 months) had hiccups. It was a new sensation for her because, as far as we know, that was the first time Samuel James (or “SamJam,” as we like to call him) has gotten them. We had a good laugh about the other sounds little boys like to make on this side of the birth canal, too. 

Part of the delight was that I had just taught on the beauties and complexities of Psalm 139:14 in the original Hebrew. Languages being what they are, there is seldom a one-to-one correspondence between original language sentences and their translation into a receptor language. The task is harder than it looks, and absolutism doesn’t help here. Moreover, a “literal” translation doesn’t always mean an “accurate” translation, or even one that is coherent and comprehensible in our language.

Verse 14 most commonly comes into English as “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (ESV, NIV, ASV, KJV, NKJV, KJ21, NASB95, NRSV, LEB, OJB, EHV, WEB, JUB, BRG, AMP, etc.). That may capture David’s intention, but in the orginial, he simply writes, “I praise you because,” followed by two Hebrew words. 

The word “made” is not present (though it may be implied since it is used explicitly in v. 15). There’s not even an “and” between the two words. In fact, the possible translations are numerous on several counts: (1) the semantic range of both words is broad; (2) there is ambiguity on what exactly David is referring to (himself as a creation or God as the Creator); and (3) words need to be supplied to make it coherent in English. The fact is, all translations involve a certain amount of interpretation and syntactical decision making.

The first Hebrew word falls in the semantic domain of being awesome, fearful, frightened, distressed, revered (as in recognizing a lofty status), remarkable, and other such concepts. The second word falls in the semantic domain of being distinguished, distinct, set apart, unusual—and therefore wonderful, miraculous, or fantastic. The same word describes God’s knowledge in v. 6. It suggests being beyond understanding, i.e., a marvel, or a positive mystery. 

Translators grapple with how to render these words into a comprehensible sentence. (See some of the options below.) Assuming David is referring to himself as created by God (which is an interpretive decision based on other parts of the psalm, though not demanded by the words themselves), I would render Psalm 139:14 in one of the following ways. David is saying to God:

“I praise you because…

  • I am a marvel
  • I am a wonder
  • I am wonderful
  • I am a being of wonder
  • I am an awesome one
  • I am your workmanship
  • I am your masterpiece

…and deep inside, I know this profoundly.”

The human self, says David, is truly a wonder, and it must be held in awe. It’s a marvel. It’s a replica of the divine (cf. Gen 1:26), and the psalmist is not reluctant to say such things about himself. The same man who wrote, “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5) also wrote the words in Psalm 139:14 about being a marvel and a wonder.

These two realities need to be kept in proper tension, with the priority of self-definition being placed on essence or essential being—i.e., the self as an image bearer of God—not as a sinner. That came later, and it was a distortion of God’s original beauty. Thankfully, God is in the art restoration business. And the artwork he is restoring is us. You and me. Humanity. That’s good news for the world.

So, SamJam, you are a marvel. You are a masterpiece. You are a reflection of the incredible God who’s knitting you together right now. You are indeed awesome. Hiccups and all.

Psalm 139:14 (where the creation is assumed)

  • I am fearfully and wondrously made (GNV)
  • I have been remarkably and wondrously made (CSB)
  • I have been remarkably and wonderfully made (HCSB)
  • I have been so amazingly and miraculously made (GW, NOG)
  • you made me in an amazing and wonderful way (NCV, ICB)
  • I was marvelously set apart (CEB)
  • I am awesomely made (CJB)
  • I am wonderfully made (NAB, NCB)
  • I am awesomely and wonderfully made (NASB, TLV)
  • the wonderful way you created me (CEV)
  • you made me in such a wonderful way (ERV)
  • you made me in an amazing [awesome] and wonderful way (EXP)
  • You made me with fear and wonder (MEV)
  • making me so wonderfully complex! (NLT, TLB)
  • Body and soul, I am marvelously made! (MSG)
  • How you made me is amazing and wonderful (NIRV)
  • the greatness of the way I was made brings fear (NLV)
  • I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe (VOICE)

Psalm 139:14 (where the Creator is assumed)

  • You [God] are fearful and wondrous (ISV)
  • You [God] are fearful and wonderful (AMP Classic)
  • You [God] are to be feared; all you do is strange and wonderful (GNT)
  • [God], your deeds are awesome and amazing (NET)
  • Thou [God] art magnified dreadfully; thy works be wonderful (WYC)